Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Married to Comics

By Kim O'Connor

Carol Tyler painted “I Am Married to Comics,” a remarkable self-portrait, in the long-lost days of 2006. Like much of her art, it was borne of her intense frustration with the men in her life. On this particular occasion, it was her frustration with 15 men—the cartoonists of “Masters of American Comics,” an exhibition in which all of the so-called masters just happened to be guys, if you can even believe it. The world was crazy back then, and women barely made comics, and probably a dog ate Art Spiegerman’s history homework. Ain’t no accounting for taste.

(“‘Masters of American Comics’ is a landmark and a pleasure,” raved the New York Times. “A revelation.”)

More recently, as part of a roundtable on the unmitigated shitshow that was this year’s Angoulême Grand Prix, Tyler’s painting resurfaced. Ten years on, everything has changed, or so I’ve heard. There are just so many women making comics these days, or something. And yet, as Tyler’s post makes clear—painfully, abundantly clear—nothing has changed…except, perhaps, the eagerness with which Good Men in Comics will seize an opportunity to denounce a plainly sexist stunt.

The denouncements began with Dan Clowes, who, through no real fault of his own, received more credit for the boycott than the collective of women who instigated it. “Fantagraphics Artist Daniel Clowes Takes on Gender Inequality in Comics Establishment,” read a headline in The Seattle Times. Quoth G. Willow Wilson, the face of Feminist Comics™, “He took a big risk and I admire him for that.”

(Girl. Why.)

Clowes’ statement was designed to put the festival organizers in their place, which you’ll note is well beneath him. “I support the boycott of Angoulême and am withdrawing my name from any consideration for what is now a totally meaningless ‘honor,’” he said. “What a ridiculous, embarrassing debacle.”

That ‘honor’ Clowes put in scare quotes (and the “embarrassing debacle” he plainly names) were, one assumes, perfectly fine and legit in the halcyon days of 2015, when he shared the distinction of being nominated with one (1) human woman, Marjane Satrapi—a fact he somehow failed to note. I can only imagine how this cultural conversation might have been different if, instead of condemning the boorish French, Clowes had simply copped to the fact that he had never noticed the (blatant, persistent) gender disparity at this festival…and how frustrated he became with the situation—including his own role in it—once he heard the Good Word.

But Clowes didn’t do that; instead he chose to affirm his own goodness. And from there we had to watch an increasingly pathetic Limbo line of “enlightened” cartoonists, all the way down Milo “How Low Can You Go” Manara—Milo Fucking Manara—leveraging his denouncement as an opportunity to deflect criticisms of his own egregiously sexist work.

(“I have always tried to be respectful of [women’s] role as subject and not object in my work,” Manara wrote. His statement echoed across comics news outlets.)

Less awful, but somehow more annoying (to me), every journalist in the Kingdom of Comics wrote lengthy explainers on this thing that anyone with two eyes could see was just bad. This commentary brimmed with indignation RE: how the cretins at Angoulême managed to forget that some cartoonists have vaginas. In the year 2016!!!! Can you even imagine?

Let me try to explain something, friends. Angoulême does not exist in a vacuum. And those philistines we’ve spent the last two months denouncing are not self-made men (and women, I guess? clearly haven’t read enough explainers). They exist within comics, and comics remains an outrageously sexist culture, full stop.  

* * *

Recently, as I studied Carol Tyler’s painting, I reflected on my own role in that culture.

“Elizabeth I once said that she was ‘married to England’ as a way of creating the identity of Great Britain, which reminded me of my full commitment to the form, like nuns who become Brides of Christ,” Tyler writes. “This painting, with all its symbolism, became my manifesto.”

What Tyler doesn’t mention is that, in addition to being metaphorically married to the form, she’s literally married to Justin Green, who’s widely recognized as the father of autobiographical comics. It’s a sometimes fraught relationship that she’s depicted in her work and discussed on the record with a number of writers, including me.

In 2012, when I interviewed her, I was working on a project that had me talking to a lot of cartoonists. Some of Tyler’s comments made it into the final piece, but just barely. (This wasn’t in itself unusual; I talked to other cartoonists, men and women, who didn’t make it in at all.) We had talked for a long time, a conversation that ran for 25 typed pages once it was transcribed, but the part I ended up using was about how comics readers applied a double standard to the work of her and her husband:

Similarly, the cartoonist Carol Tyler, who will publish the third and final volume of her remarkable graphic memoir You’ll Never Know this October, is frequently shunned by the fans of her husband, Justin Green. “A lot of people are disturbed that I talked about Justin walking out on me,” said Tyler, whose trilogy weaves together the stories of the near dissolution of her marriage with her father’s military service in World War II. “That was a shocker. ‘Justin Green, father of the autobiographical comic! Why would you show him leaving you like you he was a cad? We love him.’ I could feel the chill.”

It was a sorta gossipy detail, a flash in the context of many interesting things Tyler had said about her own work. I was using her observations to point to a sort of hypocrisy I see in how women’s autobio is received. But even as I made that point about sexism in comics, I was reinforcing sexism in comics by choosing to focus on her identity as a wife more than her work as a cartoonist. Worse, I realized it at the time—and did it anyway. It suited my purposes.

* * *

Looking at Tyler’s painting now, as I write, I think about how her identities of wife, mother, and cartoonist are inextricable. We don’t feel obligated to talk about Green as her husband in the same way, just as we don’t really talk about R. Crumb as Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s husband, or Art Spiegelman as Françoise Mouly’s husband. In comics conversations, these men are granted more autonomy as artists.

Or is that autonomy something men claim? Is there anything lonelier than men’s autobio? And why does it feel like that’s still held up as the ideal?

Recently, in an excellent review of the new edition of Soldier’s Heart (Tyler’s comic, formerly known as You’ll Never Know), Annie Mok describes Tyler’s work as a sort of answer to the “fuckboy approach to memoir comics.” Moved, I read an interview Mok linked to (a great conversation between Tyler and Tom Spurgeon), as well as a TCJ interview that was published around the same time. In both pieces, I was struck by Tyler’s descriptions of how tightly her life and work have been intertwined—which is, of course, a theme that’s also at the center of Soldier’s Heart

I thought, too, about a recent piece by my friend Tahneer Oksman, a comics scholar. In an essay about her new book, Tahneer talks about the myth that we should (or even can) separate our personal and professional lives. “In academia, as everyone knows, you’re not supposed to research for personal reasons,” she writes. “It quickly became apparent that writing about this literature, about Jewish women’s identity, was clearly a way for me to work out a lifelong puzzle.” And then this, a sentence that really resonated with me: “There comes a time when everyone has to face the fact that her career choices are, well, personal.”

This is an overgeneralization—of course it is—but I think men’s autobio conceives of “personal” as, like, granting passage to the inner sanctum of their special thoughts. “Personal” in women’s autobio looks more at relationships. Context. Connections.

I can’t think of anyone in comics whose work speaks to the intersection of life and art with more heart than Carol Tyler. I think, too, of other women in autobio who bring their own strengths and sensibilities to the same task. Alison Bechdel takes a cerebral approach. Phoebe Gloeckner’s is pure nerve. Lynda Barry’s is filtered through imagination. And Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s is…I don’t know. Like reading women’s magazines from hell.

There have long been remarkable comics made by these and other women whose careers and/or outputs don’t necessarily resemble those of their male counterparts. The paths they found shouldn’t be considered professional liabilities. They’re part and parcel of what makes them great.  

The new edition of Soldier’s Heart—which includes the three volumes of You’ll Never Know plus new pages—is available from Fantagraphics. You can read my 2012 interview with Carol Tyler after the jump. It’s been edited mostly for length, and lightly for clarity.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Matthieu Bonhomme presents 'The Man Who Shot Lucky Luke;' a 70th anniversary tribute

As regular readers of the blog will know, this is absolutely the kind of place where we gaze longingly over pages of beautiful comics in languages we can't read or understand. In that vein, today I'd like to share with you the stunning cover and a couple of pages from Matthieu Bonhomme's upcoming 'The Man Who Shot Lucky Luke.' Due to be published in French in late April, the Bonhomme volume -which he has also written- is intended as a stand-alone, tribute book in celebration of Lucky Luke's 70th anniversary, and is unrelated to the continuity of the main series, The Adventures of Lucky Luke. Bonhomme's typically gorgeous work may be familiar to English-language readers via the Fabien Vehlmann-penned The Marquis of Anaon (currently being released by Cinebook), or 2013's William and the Lost Spirit, with Gwen de Bonneval. Bonhomme counts himself as a childhood fan of the 'man who shoots faster than his shadow,' and it certainly looks like he'll be bringing a different tone to the lighter, more comedic atmosphere generally found in the Lucky Luke books. Bonhomme's masterful at backgrounds and environment and using them to imbue emotional notes and set a specific pitch -something which is clear from even the few pieces shown here. That it all looks so attractive is the cherry on the cake.

Created in 1946 by Belgian cartoonist Morris (Maurice De Bevere) as both a parody and an homage of the cowboy character prevalent in westerns, Lucky Luke began life as a strip in the pages of seminal French comics magazine, Spirou. In 1955, Morris began a working collaboration with René Goscinny (best known as the writer of Asterix) that would last for over 20 years and see the comics propelled to the peak of their success, and translated into 23 languages worldwide. Goscinny also directed and co-produced three animated Lucky Luke films, and the books have been subject to a number of live-action film adaptions -the most recent of which was in 2009 and starred Oscar-winning actor, Jean Dujardin- and cartoon series. The comics often reference various real and fictional western events and figures such as Calamity Jane, Jesse James, Billy the Kid; actors Lee Marvin, Jack Palance, and others, and the title of Bonhomme's book again suggests a spin on 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,' the 1962 film starring perhaps the man most famous for playing cowboys on screen: John Wayne.

In addition to the Bonhomme book, publishers Dargaud have planned a spate of events to mark Lucky Luke's 70th anniversary throughout 2016: another tribute book by Guillaume Bouzard, a major exhibition with over 100 of Morris' original artworks which launched at Angoulême (and will run until September); an art-reference book titled L'art de Morris ('The Art of Morris'), and a luxury reissue of Morris' Phil Defer, the 8th Lucky Luke adventure. A special edition of Spirou, devoted entirely to the character is also in the works, and various books in the series are to be offered at special low prices. The celebrations will culminate in a change on the main Lucky Luke adventures, with screenwriter Jul taking over the scripting reins, but will continue to be drawn by French artist Achdé, who has been illustrating the books since Morris' death in 2001. 

Need to know: Manjit Thapp

'Need to know' is a new feature that aims to get you quickly acquainted with cartoonists and illustrators of talent and interest, via a few questions and some examples of their work. Up first, an artist whose work I came came across towards the end of last year and became instantly enamoured with: Manjit Thapp, who you can find on Tumblr here, and on Instagram here.

Can you introduce yourself a little?
My name is Manjit Thapp, I’m 21 years old and live in the UK. I’m currently on my third and final year studying Illustration at UAL.

I read on your Tumblr that you only decided to pursue illustration (formally/as a degree) when choosing what to do after sixth-form. Did you take art at A-level? Did you draw, or have an interest in drawing, prior to that?
I’ve always been into drawing and art. I started taking it more seriously when I started secondary school though and ended up doing Art A Level. 

When did you start sharing you work on the internet? How helpful has it been to have an online presence?
I’ve been sharing my work for so long! I had a deviant art account when I was in Year 9, me and my friend both joined at the same time and we’d post all our embarrassing art work on there. Then eventually I got a tumblr and instagram. I’m really glad I started posting my work pretty young though, because I’d probably be too nervous or second guess posting it now. It motivated me to keep drawing and because of that my work’s developed so much.

There's a longstanding debate of the merits of formally studying art over being 'self-taught.' How are you finding your course?
My course has had it’s ups and downs, which is the case for pretty much everyone I think. Some of the briefs that I’ve worked on at uni have informed my work so much though and helped it grow because I’ve tried out things that I wouldn’t have before, like making comics. I think it’s really important to work on personal things alongside your course and not just rely solely on uni. I draw as often as I can.

Your work encompasses children's picture books, comics, fashion illustrations, editorials. Is there a particular area that's emerged as one you enjoy more than the others- one you'd like to focus on?
I don’t think I’d focus on just one, I like being able to work across different types of illustration. I really like sequence and narrative, it’s challenging but the end result is so rewarding. The fashion illustrations are fun too because I have an interest in that, and I like combining it with my art. I definitely would say I have interest in fashion and clothing and that ends up in my work. I love drawing and including bits of clothing I own or would want to own. |’m also inspired by music, sometimes I’ll be listening to a song and I’ll like the mood of it so I’ll try and translate that feeling into my work.

I actually don’t read that many comics! I’ve only recently begun drawing comics, but I like NoBrow’s comics  a lot. They release these magazines that all have a different theme that artists respond to, one half has illustrations and the other half short comics. It’s really great!

Do you draw digitally or analogue? Or a mix of the two?
I draw everything by hand with pencil because I like the texture of it and then add colour in Photoshop because I can experiment with colours without doing anything permanent.

There are a few recurring themes in your personal work- a liet motif of eyes, faces covered/turned away; a sense of spirituality and self. Almost holistic, especially combined with your sense of composition and placing. Do you find themes present themselves as you work, or is there a conscious choice to explore and include things?
I would say they present themselves mostly, I don’t like to over think my drawings too much. There are little ‘motifs’ that I find myself doodling a lot and they end up making their way into final drawings.

Another aspect I connect with in your work is the portrayal of big-browed South Asian brown girls, which honestly has been so affirming for me, because there is so little representation of that demographic in the British illustration and comics scene. Was that lack something you ever encountered/felt or gave thought to?
I think representation is so important, and the lack of it has been something I’ve been thinking a lot about. It sort of dawned on me that if I’m unhappy with the lack of it then I should do something about it in my own work; rather than wait for other people to do it, if that makes sense? It’s really nice when I get messages from people who say that they appreciate that too, it just reminds me how important it is.

What are you working on at the moment? Do you have anything in the pipeline for 2016?
Mostly uni work, but I’m also working on new things that I want to add to my online shop like new prints and hopefully some tote bags. Finishing uni mostly, once that’s done I really want to start devoting more time to freelancing and also to my online shop. Having the time to create new products is something I’m really looking forward to! I love seeing my artwork on things like t-shirts, bags, stickers etc so I’d love to collaborate with companies to do that.

Rounding up hourly comics day 2016

Hourly comics day took place this Monday, as it does every year on February 1st; an event which sees participating artists produce comics every hour over the course of the day. As you can imagine, that's quite the task, and as such the format isn't one that's strictly adhered to, with people breaking down how regularly and at what intervals they draw according to what suits them best. Most people choose to stick to autobiographical comics, narrating what's been happening in their life from hour to hour, with many a rumination  on the process itself. For comics fans, it means there's always a treasure trove of free comics to enjoy, and this year the quality seemed more exceptional than ever. I've gathered some of my favourites below (I like to wait until Friday to do this as I think it's nice to have a chunk of easy, solid Friday reading -and it gives cartoonists time to post their contributions together in one place), with links embedded in the artist names- click through to read all the comics in full; there's a few that will lead to Twitter and might require a bit of scrolling to get at.

Carolyn C. Novak:

Becca Tobin:

Vera Brosgol:

Aatmaja Pandya:

Laura Knetzger- part 1, part 2part 3:

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Maps to the Suns by Sloane Leong -part 1

I'm really pleased to introduce Maps to the Suns from the excellent Sloane Leong, a comic that will serialise monthly here, with new installments posted on the first Wednesday of each month. If you're a Comics & Cola Patreon backer, you'll have access to a pdf of each installment a week before it publishes on the blog. I want to refrain from attempting to describe it too much; instead I'm going to quote Sloane and call it a 'girls basketball drama,' and hope that you'll enjoy following it here. You can, however, read an interview with Sloane where she discusses sports comics and Maps to the Suns  in more detail over at The Comics Journal.

Comics shelfie: Lucie Bryon

Like many people, I first came across French cartoonist Lucie Bryon's work via her 2013 viral 'Introversion' comic -created as part of her degree-, and have been following her subsequent output via her Tumblr blog (which is the main place to find her comics and art), and on Twitter. One of the pleasures of keeping abreast of younger artists work, is that often you get to seem a more distinct progression and evolution than say someone who's developed a style and level of ability which they then refine in less visible ways. From warm and funny auto-bio comics to delicious and absorbing recipe comics, Bryon's comics are beautifully crisp and fresh, always engaging, and have simply gotten better and better -and I'm very grateful she posts them online in English as her published French-language work is inaccessible to me (here's hoping a savvy British/Canadian/US publisher puts out a collection of her strips soon)!

But for now, it's over to Lucie as she walks and talks us through her collection of books in the latest installment of comics shelfie:

'I’ve been reading comics for pretty much my whole life, my parents being big comics buyers too, and started buying and collecting my own as a teenager, mostly buying manga at the time, then gradually a lot of other stuff. The collection that I have here in Brussels started approximately 5 years ago when I moved here ( and only brought 4 or 5 comics with me), so most of my collection from my teenage years and first three years of college is at my parents home.

As I live with my boyfriend, we share the shelf space; at first we had two shelves each, but as time went by, the organization went out the window and now it’s more like "where can we fit more books ?" I’m a much more avid buyer then him though, so most of the space is taken by my books.

Even our coffee table is actually a shelf he built for me, turned into a table because we needed one and I thought it would look pretty neat. With time I also discovered that my friends love it, everytime they come by, they start reading whatever comics are on top. We mostly use it to store novels, manga, and books that have an unusual format, in a never-ending game of tetris. I also store my author copies of the kids books I illustrated; everytime I receive the box of 20 new author copies, I'm thrilled and freaked out at the same time; so I give most of them away to friends and family.

I’m really happy and weirdly proud about this thing. I found it at the flea market after searching for a very long time how I could store my zines; and it’s perfect. I can’t fit all of them in it since the slots are narrow, but it’s really great for displaying most of my favorite minis.

At the top of our shelves, we put all the art books and other gigantic collections that don’t fit anywhere else (like Chris Ware’s "Building Stories" and the Calvin & Hobbes collection).I do love sketchbooks and artbooks a lot, and dive into them whenever I feel low, to always discover something new. There’s also two books to learn Japanese here, I bought them very motivated and haven’t touched them ever since by lack of time. Knowing they’re here make me happy though, I’ll definitely get to it someday ! And finally, some toys and a little stand Valentin found on the street, that I use to display my favorite comic of the moment.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Valentine Gallardo's 'Soft Float': the empathetic evolution of the disaffection narrative [review]

There's an intrinsic sweetness to Valentine Gallardo's work, which is perhaps initially surprising considering all but one of the comics collected here were originally published for Vice magazine. Vice have a strong history of working with 'alternative' and 'indie' cartoonists, showcasing in particular comics of the disenfranchised variety: stoner/slackers in their 20's and 30's duffing, drinking, partying aimlessly; misunderstood and vaguely rebellious in a manner that's earnestly uncaring, and today feels a little dated. Gallardo's work encompasses those disaffection narratives, whilst also being symbolic of a generational shift in attitude and approach. So the group of friends in Soft Float navigate the usual fare of work, culture, society, and relationships; in addition to negotiating fulfillment, purpose, anxiety, and so forth. These latter subjects have long been present in alternative comics -but the manner in which they are discussed has changed. Where previously rebellion via disengagement extended from the outer world (rejecting systemic and social roles) to the self, here, examination and a level of interaction -both introspective and beyond, is key.

Many contemporary cartoonists are more contemplative in this area (to which growing awareness of mental health issues have likely impacted): the negotiation and function of both the individual and 'social' self. Broadly, this seems to have evolved from semi-ironic, fervent stoicism to people as process: from cryogenic awareness as end product, to looking to assess and improve. Gallardo's more empathetic prism typifies this shift. Even the threading of altered realities via drugs leans towards a reading of magic rather than overt tripping. Those aspects play to the inexplicablities and wonder of life -the strange, the ominous, the good- instead of any direct semblance of enlightenment. They mingle easily with a leavening modernity that grounds the comics whimsical elements.

The 6 comics here are in turn soft and sharp, something achieved through both tone and look. Gallardo's pencils combine and switch between precise spindliness and pressed smudges, moving from lush and dreamy to stark clarity. There's a tactile closeness to pencil, that makes the act of creating palpable and immediate (reinforced by rubbings and visible, early lines), as if you'd just been handed it- the transference of charcoal and pencil from fingers to page to the reader's hands. It's interesting to see how a plethora of aesthetic signifiers from European alt-comics tradition come together and are reshaped in Gallardo's hands: short, stocky figures, a mixture of human, animal, and plant creatures; triangle noses, rounded blush cheeks -a folk infusion that stretches from Ingrid Vang Nyman and Tove Jansson to Disa Wallander, Coco Mooyson and Anouck Ricard. Every now and again Gallardo will conjure an expression and face that's so utterly satisfying; so fully the concept of what it's supposed to represent: the upturned tilt of mischievous anticipation (in the 3rd panel of the second page below) or a disgruntled storming off (in the 4th panel of the last image).

As comforting as the degree of recognition in Gallardo's stories is, there's a sliver of opening in each in which interpretation and imagination prickles. Take 'Magic Night,' which beings around a campfire in the woods, as drinks and dares are passed. A mysterious foodstuff, 'a spellwich loaf,' is introduced into the equation, despite warnings against ingestion. Despite the progression of the narrative, the imagery of the final page of abandoned, prone figures sleeping on a hillside is also somewhat sudden and ominous. 'Goodbye Carlos' is a scathingly pithy commentary on systemic misogny set at a work leaving party, made all the more powerful because the reader is cut off from participation, and left to simply watch. There are no traditional 'conversations,' instead events unfold via thin, insidious speech bubbles that spew a litany of phrases and snatched words (and some significant pictograms).'Ugly Bastard,' reflects the complexities of abuse and hypocrisy with humour and a dollop of strangeness, while 'I Fly So Low' is a beautifully paced piece on accepting feeling good, bad, and in-between, with equal embrace.

Fundamentally, Soft Float's excellence lies in its cohesiveness of vision. Gallardo's ability to tell stories in which style, tone, philosophy, and emotion coalesce into conveying fully a particular kind of language and expression results in a book that feels the absolute fulcrum of what it set out to achieve.

With pound in hand: February comic and graphic novel releases

Picking out the cream of this month's releases in graphic novels, collected editions and anything else notable (please note- release dates are subject to change).

PICK OF THE MONTH: Princess Jellyfish by  Akiko Higashimura, Kodansha: Akiko Higashimura's Princess Jellyfish gets a much anticipated English language translation, with the first book in the series releasing this month. The comic currently runs to 15 volumes in its original Japanese, and Kodansha (having acquired the license to publish the first 12 volumes) will be publishing the English-language editions as large format, 2-in-1 omnibuses, complete with color page selections and bonus special features. The official copy for the book doesn't really give you much to go on, but I'm excited for it having seen Higashimura's art and pages, and from what I've read about the tone: 'Tsukimi Kurashita has a strange fascination with jellyfish. She's loved them from a young age and has carried that love with her to her new life in the big city of Tokyo.  There, she resides in Amamizukan, a safe-haven for girl geeks who regularly gush over a range of things from trains to Japanese dolls. However, a chance meeting at a pet shop has Tsukimi crossing paths with one of the things that the residents of Amamizukan have been desperately trying to avoid - a fashionable socialite! But there's much more to this woman than her trendy clothes. Their odd encounter is only the beginning of a new and unexpected path for Tsukimi and her friends.'

Big Kids by Michael DeForge, Drawn & Quarterly: I'll always look into anything Michael DeForge puts into print (not as good at keeping up with digital/online work) due to his ability to create a completely immersive and singular visual language, in both function and form. This new longform comic is a bildungsroman of sorts: the story of a troubled teenage boy as he navigates the transformative years of high school, although anybody with passing familiarity of DeForge's unsettling, vividly beautiful comics will know that's most likely a deceptively simple summation.... 'When the boy's uncle, a police officer, gets kicked out of the family's basement apartment and transferred to the countryside, April moves in. She's a college student, mysterious and cool, and she quickly takes a shine to the boy. The boy's own interests quickly fade away: he stops engaging in casual sex, taking drugs, and testing the limits of socially acceptable (and legal) behavior. Instead, he hangs out with April and her friends, a bunch of highly evolved big kids who spend their days at the campus swimming pool. And slowly, the boy begins to change, too.' 

Corto Maltese: Celtic Tales by Hugo Pratt, IDW: I'm a new reader to Hugo Pratt's Corto Maltese, which is no doubt one of the purposes of these reprints from IDW. My feelings for the first volume are well-documented, but the stories in the second felt more disparate in both order and quality. Regardless, I'll still be picking up the third and latest installment of the rakish sailor's adventures, as the action moves from South America to Europe against the backdrop of the First World War. It looks like Pratt's incorporating even more 'real-life' historical figures into his stories, something I'm not the biggest fan of, but isn't a deal-breaker where his gorgeous art and deft touch is concerned. 'In these six stories Pratt further explores such complicated themes as patriotism and greed, revolution and opportunism, and betrayal and seduction. Events take Corto from a small island in the Venetian lagoon, where he comes face to face with a beautiful blonde spy, to Stonehenge and an adventure with Merlin, Morgana, and Puck. Along the way he meets Ernest Hemingway and future billionaire Aristotle Onassis, Irish revolutionary Banshee O'Danann, the legendary Red Baron, and an intense cast of characters who weave in and out of a series of labyrinthine plots and counter-plots.'

Orange 1 by  Ichigo Takano, Seven Seas: This is another manga series I've heard curiosity-igniting murmurings of. Complete collections are hugely preferable to me as a reader: a good chunk of story, no hanging about for further volumes. The premise sees 16-year old Takamiya Naho receive a mysterious letter, claiming to be from her 27-year old self, and informing her to keep an eye on a new transfer student by the name of Naruse Kakeru who will soon be joining her class. 'What is Naho to make of the letter's contents and its cryptic warning?' This seems to be one of those 'what if you could change the past' scenarios, but I'm interested to see what it does and where it goes- something about it gives me The Girl Who Leapt Through Time vibes, which if it's as good, I'll be happy with.

Under: Volume 1: Monsters Beneath by Stefano Raffaele and Christophe Bec, Titan: I'm a sucker for a good creature feature (see: those B-list Leo Cinebook comics), and this looks like it could fit the bill. 'For Lieutenant Wilson Jericho, Hell is real: and it's in the sewers of the sprawling city Megalopol, where, as an officer of the Sewer Police, he's responsible for ensuring the the bowels of the city run smoothly. He knows everything there is to know about the underworld, which is why he's chosen to serve as tour guide for Sandra Yeatman, a young scientist who aims to prove the truth of legends about the strange wildlife in the sewers. Soon, Jericho finds that there is still much for him to learn, as they discover an invasion of mutant spiders ready to tear the city apart...' Spiders are always creepier when they're so small though, right?

Amulet 7: Firelight by Kazu Kibuishi, Graphix:  Kazu Kibuishi confirmed last year that the story of Amulet would wrap up at 9 volumes, so at number 7 the series is fast coming to a head; Kibuishi's pacing and movement between characters and plotlines in books 1-5 was exemplary, but 6 and 7 have felt too full and slightly disengaging. That aside, it remains a very good series, and one that's hugely popular with its demographic (Fox have picked up the film rights to it). The story centers on Emily, a young girl who moves with her younger brother and mother into their great-grandfather’s house after the death of their father, where the family discover a small door in the basement leading to an alternate world of demons, robots, elves, and intelligent animals. It's a land to which their grandfather was familiar, and one that's at war- a war to which their destinies appear tied. 'Emily, Trellis, and Vigo visit Algos Island, where they can access and enter lost memories. They're hoping to uncover the events of Trellis's mysterious childhood -- knowledge they can use against the Elf King. What they discover is a dark secret that changes everything. Meanwhile, the voice of Emily's Amulet is getting stronger, and threatens to overtake her completely.'

The Boy and the Beast by Mamoru Hosoda, Yen Press: This is a straight adaptation of Mamoru Hosoda's 2015 animated film of the same name- a hardback treatment much like Hosoda's Wolf Children (it looks like there's also a paperback version releasing on the same date, although it has a different cover and is listed as a 'volume 1'). I've been meaning to watch the film- it looks great, but I like reading film to comic adaptations -particularly animation- in a way that doesn't work for me if reversed.  'Tokyo's a big city - big enough that it's easy for a grieving boy like Ren to slip through the cracks. But Ren slips a little farther than he meant to, ending up in the beast world of Jutengai! He ends up with a new name - Kyuta -and a new life as the apprentice of the bear Kumatetsu, learning the way of the sword. Kumatetsu's got problems of his own, though, and the boy and the beast may have more to learn from each other than they realize. But the boy's arrival in the realm of the beasts has put both their worlds in danger, and they're going to need more than life lessons to face it!'

Also releasing: Last Man 4: The Show, Assassination Classroom vol 8

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Giveaway comics

I'm having a clear-out and getting rid of a load of comics I no longer have room for. Listed below are all the books I'm giving away. They're all totally free, the only thing you have to pay is postage (however if you want to add a quid or two, that would be hugely appreciated as I'm saving for a new computer, but you absolutely don't have to). As such, these are available to people in the UK only, as shipping abroad is, frankly, a joke (sorry, international readers). The condition of the books ranges from very good to new: most are ones I've bought for myself, and some are review copies that have been sent to me. If there's anything that you're interested in, please email me at with the book(s) you want and I'll quote you a postage price. Payment via Paypal. First come, first served. I'll strike out titles as they become unavailable. Thank you!

**I've removed all the books claimed to make clear what's still available

  • Suppli 1 by  Mari Okazaki
  • The Littlest Bitch by David Quinn and Devon Devereaux (hb)
  • Higher Earth vol 1 by Francesco Biagini and Joe Eisma
  • A Glance Backward by Tony Sandoval and (hb) 
  • 2 Guys Fooling Around with the Moon by Bernard Kliban
  • Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head by Bernard Kliban
  • Hot Jazz by Hunt Emerson

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

One last thing: reflecting on comics 2015

For the past few years, like many sites, I've run an end of year 'notable comics' compilation, in which various people are kind enough to contribute their thoughts on a single comics work -released in the year just gone by- that struck them in some way. This year I changed things up a little and instead asked people to share anything comics-related that was significant to them in 2015: a trend or discussion, a specific panel, a line of dialogue, a person, an experience. Those recountings are collected below, followed by my own at the very end. There's some fine, fine writing here, and I like the idea of this piece existing as a small time capsule that captures certain moods and feelings of a particular time; I was surprised at some of the commonalities that surfaced. I'd like to extend my deep and sincere thanks to everyone who took part; it's hugely appreciated.

“This is like Hoarders... BURIED ALIIIIIIIIIIVE!!!”

The last part she shouted directly into my face, wide-eyed and red. She'd wept when she saw how many books I had.

On the 30th of November, every occupant of my building was told we had one month to vacate. Finding another place was not so great a concern to me as figuring out how to move all of my things: books; comics; minicomics; manga digests; Japanese magazines; French albums; VHS tapes made by and for Williamsburg hipsters; a student film a correspondent had sent me on DVD in 2007, insisting it was a 'comic' as a conceptual flourish; advance reader xeroxes; Kramers Ergot 7, under which you could shield a kindergartner from inclimate weather, up to and including small hail; other books of similar size; more.

My mother had wept when she saw it all.

I had tried to pack up most of it in boxes, and when Wal-Mart and Home Depot had run out of stock, I settled on black contractor bags. “You didn't write anything on the boxes!” she said. “You can't tell these bags apart, and that's how I know you don't want these things! It's just stuff! It scares me.”

In retrospect, it was insane to think of my stock as a peccadillo discreet to my life; it was demonstrably more than I could move alone before the deadline, and by god I put people to work. I should have just hired movers, but I saw my comics as my thing, in my control. My sister showed me the bruises that dotted her legs from hoisting and balancing teeming towers of work.

You accumulate, accumulate, accumulate, and value dictates that you not treat this so much as ephemera, because it is costly, but as investment – intellectual, I guess, or curatorial, if I'm flattering myself. “You could get rich selling all this stuff,” my brother-in-law told me, but I know that's not true. Instead, it was like a history of myself, crammed into so small a space that I could recall the circumstances of individual days simply by lifting stacks.

I had filled the place with me, and assumed, logically, that I would be left alone, wanting for nobody.

For years I'd been good at directing people away from my home.

“When you were little,” she said, holding dusty pot lids in her hands, “the way I imagined you grown was I thought you would cook. I always thought of you cooking in here. But I know you just eat out.” 

Growing up, I couldn’t stand watching TV shows where people were constantly fighting. I didn’t enjoy most media like that - instead I loved filler episodes in shonen anime, I liked wandering around in empty fields in video games, I would read food scenes in fantasy novels over and over. When I first started working in comics, I was super self-conscious about this. Wasn’t it childish to prefer stories where nothing bad happens?

Recently, though, it feels like people, creators and readers alike, are coming out of the woodwork, admitting this is the kind of work they love, too. It’s such a relief. I was always afraid of having boring taste, but suddenly here’s a whole audience that wants these comics and calls them nice things like “gentle” and “soothing” and, my favorite way to describe them, “healing”. Healing comics are not necessarily comics without conflict or a linear plot. I see them rather as understanding the benefits of letting a story breathe. I’m talking about Balderdash!, Bug Boys, Yotsuba&! - there’s a growing, fantastic body of quiet character-and-environment driven work. Pages are spent on conversations. A whole story arc is just about a walk in the woods. I can see how that would be boring to some, but why wouldn’t you want to take the time to appreciate the world you’ve so lovingly built with your own hands? Shigeru Miyamoto famously wanted his video games to feel like playgrounds you could pull out of your drawer. Healing comics feel like this for me. You can visit somewhere beautiful and meet kind friends whenever you want, just by reading a comic. You can take some time off from your journey, and sit and heal instead.

Jade Sarson (cartoonist): Something Noteworthy on Comics 2015- Comics Streaming and Urasawa Naoki’s Manben Series:
Having come into comics at a point when the terms “manga” and “manga artist” were this mysterious entity that you could get little to no information on in the UK (i.e. the early era of Tokyopop comics releases), I have found it so wonderfully refreshing to see more and more humble coverage of comic artists both from Japan and the rest of the world online. It’s no longer the case that you only see an occasional photo from inside an artist’s studio, now it’s more likely that you can watch them create their artwork LIVE as they stream. When I was learning to make comics in the mid-2000’s, there was no where you could watch this sort of thing (that I knew of, anyway). But in 2015, I was so happy to see Urasawa Naoki’s Manben series, a documentary that focuses on a different manga artist and their workday/workspace each episode – and I was delighted to find myself nodding along and laughing at all the familiar anecdotes on working for hours on art in a secluded space. Artists are encouraging each other more to talk about their techniques, and show each other how to improve, not to be secretive and hide away; and wow, if that isn’t the most inspiring development that has arisen from the internet. Now if I’m feeling unmotivated, I will often pick a favourite artist like Yusuke Murata (who often streams his work on One Punch Man), put their stream on and let the hard work of another artist from across the world prompt me to get off my arse and get back to work. Perhaps I should start streaming my work, in the hopes of inspiring someone else…

Clark Burscough (Thought Bubble  Festival Assistant Director, writer 5ivex5 blog):
What is it that defines a superhero? Is it speed, strength, agility, tactical nous, fighting skills, intelligence, or a fearsome arsenal? It is none of these things. The single aspect that makes or breaks a superhero is having a bomb ass theme song.

I’ve not been reading many superhero comics of late - they’re all eventing and rebooting themselves into oblivion, seemingly chasing that ever dwindling light at the end of the tunnel that allows for an uncomfortable transition from paper to celluloid as their primary market; real world heroes, for a real
world setting. Not for me. A few titles, however, have carried on that grand tradition of cape and spandex stories being, well… uniquely silly. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, I think, has been the best of these, and certainly the one that made me genuinely belly laugh more than any other this year.

One of the running gags in USG is her co-opting of the classic Spider-Man cartoon theme tune for her own, increasingly lyrically unwieldy theme; and simply by mentioning that tune it’s now stuck in your head, right? I could try and go high concept devil's advocate with this, and argue that television adaptations, that brought with them the theme songs I know and love, signaled the death knell for superhero comics as a “pure” medium, making them stretch to breaking point to satisfy a multimedia audience, but that would be nonsensical.

Superhero comics have always been a pulp medium, there have always been radio, television, and film adaptations of  the characters; it’s dependent on the creators to ignore that and focus in on what makes the genre unique - dependent on them to do it well. Ryan North, Erica Henderson and Rico Renzi do the genre very well. It’s a superhero comic I’d gladly put into the hand  of one of my younger cousins, and I know it would make them laugh as much as me. Squirrel Girl has a theme song, which, to me, makes her a very important superhero indeed.

David Brothers (Series editor and content manager at Image Comics):
This year started with a lot of people yelling that if you don't respect and support offensive cartoons, you're an idiot, a censor, or both. Personal tragedy followed after that, and depression came hot on its heels. The same old thing wasn't working, so I had to switch gears. I spent more time reading than reacting, and rather than devoting a lot of pointless time to one thing, I'd organize my thoughts, speak my mind once, and keep it moving.

The thing that impressed me most in comics this year, from my incredibly privileged position, were the conversations I had and pieces I read. I'm disillusioned with cape comics, and I'm convinced that lasting change has to come from below, from us, not from above. I watched the moves of people like Janelle Asselin, Shawn Pryor, Spike Trotman, and my coworker Corey Murphy, the way they spotted a gap, problem, or need and moved to take care of it. I had a lot of good conversations with Zainab (hi Z, sorry if this is awkward!), Christine Dinh from Boom! Studios, Cheryl Lynn Eaton, Julian Lytle of Ignorant Bliss, Jamila Rowser of Girl Gone Geek, and my Funnybook Babylon/4thletter! family to keep me focused and grounded. ("Does this really matter?" is a useful thing to hear when you're hot about something.) I read people like Claire Napier, Emma Houxbois, JA Micheline, @MizCaramelVixen, and more besides.

This year taught me the importance of focus and discernment, of picking your battles to make sure that you're hitting the subject as hard and as well as you possibly can, of not "misusing your influence." For me, 2015 in comics was about learning, and I wouldn't have learned a thing without listening to the people in it. Now I gotta apply that knowledge.

Something "comics" that struck me in 2015?
I can only be short. Very short.
Two months after Charlie Hebdo. A few weeks before first elections of the year. Eight months before the Paris attacks. Nine months before the second elections of the year. And, less geographically centered, right in the middle of the ocean of blood that 2015 has been. Oh, Pantone reference for "blood" is 185C.
Thank you, Ron. I love you.

Kim O'Connor (writer & critic):
Like Donald Trump before he became scary, many politically tinged conversations in comics strike me as repugnant and hilarious at the same time. Probably nothing in comics was so repugnant and hilarious to me in 2015 as the “Saying the Unsayable” issue of the New Statesman that Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer edited last May. There were so many levels, including the dumb cover, Art Spiegelman’s hissy vis-à-vis the magazine’s refusal to reprint his “transgressive” comic, and (of course) Palmer’s essay on Hitler. But the best bit appeared in a piece by Gaiman.

Allow me to set the stage. The issue opened with a ridiculous op-ed in which Gaiman indulged in an elaborate fantasy about his own death at the hands of terrorists. The setting of his martyrdom was the PEN Awards, an event that he and Spiegelman attended in support of Charlie Hebdo. After a long account of shopping for bulletproof vests, we’re treated to a description of what the artists ended up wearing. “I wear a bow tie,” Gaiman wrote. “Art Spiegelman wears his Nancy comic tie, to show that he is a cartoonist….”

I mean, I’ve been laughing at that line for the last six months. I couldn’t write a better parody if I tried. The tone is perfect. The image: perfect. If this sentence were a person, I would marry it. I love it that much.

In the coming year, there’s little doubt that the alt comics establishment (to coin a phrase?) will continue to bemoan the critical movement toward so-called identity politics. They’ll keep conflating it with murder and extremism—anything to avoid interrogating their own values—and I’ll keep writing about all the ways in which these former heroes of mine act like clowns. I try to have a sense of humor about it.

The highlight of comics for me this year were two speeches at award shows. I'm not really a big fan of award shows, but I know they are good for the industry and promoting these things we do. North American award shows are quite fun to attend, there's a lot more whooping and cheering than you get in the UK, a celebration I guess. The first speech that I enjoyed was Lynda Barry at The Doug Wright Awards. Lynda was presenting Best Book award and before announcing she addressed the audience and said "I wanted to sing you a song, because... you can't leave... and I wanted to sing this song to you from the image part and the cartoonist part of me, to the cartoonist part of you, and I mean it with all my heart" she then went on to sing You Are My Sunshine, but with her mouth closed. It was brilliant and daft and profound. She also mentioned that listening to it would take two years off your life. Lucily for you I can't find any videos of it on youtube. The second award show speech was Eleanor Davis winning Outstanding Collection award at SPX. Here's a video of it you should watch.

These two speeches seem so heartfelt and empowering they had a real effect on me. Basically the message I took from them is keep going, we're doing a great thing here. If you ever get a chance to see Lynda or Eleanor talk, you should go, both are excellent performers who say great things. And of course, buy their books too. But that goes without saying because you already own them right?

JA Micheline (writer & critic):
2015 in comics can be summed up in a single word: "No." Or maybe "Hell no." Actually, just plain "Fuck no."

It was a year of sexism, racism, transmisogyny, queerphobia, and ableism--which, in truth, is just an ordinary year, but what makes this one notable is the concerted pushback by marginalized readers, critics, and creators alike.

Admittedly, we saw it begin at the very end of last year, after a strong cadre of trans voices spoke up against the transphobic themes that appeared in Batgirl #37. In March, female fans gave a great big "hell no" to a misogynistic variant cover from DC Comics. I was joined by several people of color in criticizing the racial insensitivity of Strange Fruit, while trans women across the internet condemned the way they were depicted in Airboy #2. Marvel Comics suffered the wrath of black and queer critics for their appropriative hip-hop covers, as well as their Editor-in-Chief's insistence that bisexual character Hercules was actually straight. And that's just the stuff I can remember.

Just another year in comics, but again, the difference is, that things did change. The Batgirl creators listened, apologized, and changed the offending scene for the trade edition. DC pulled its misogynist cover. Strange Fruit all but vanished into the ether. Airboy #2's protest elicited a statement from GLAAD and an apology from the creators. And Marvel--well, Marvel stayed Marvel for the most part, but several of us are still refusing to hand them a penny until things change.

These victories are small and there is a great distance to go, but they are victories nonetheless. They tried to spit in our faces and we came at them with everything we had, fire and blood, with risk of bridges burnt.

So here's to another year of saying no, another year of saying "fuck you," another year of revolution.

2016, here we come.

I taught a comics writing class at Portland State University this fall. For the final project, I had each student write a script for a 20-to-24-page comic book, draw another student's script, and print and staple copies of the comic they'd drawn for the entire class. This caused some consternation--a lot of the students didn't think of themselves as artists--but I assured them that they would be graded on the quality of their writing but only on the fact of their drawing, and that stick figures, for instance, were perfectly acceptable. (I also had each of them come up with some prompts for the classmate who would be drawing the story they'd be drawing.)
They stressed and fretted and complained. (One asked: wouldn't it make more sense just to upload their artwork to a server?) But, ultimately, they did the work. And then they convened for the final class, and handed out the comics they'd drawn, and beamed at the glories of what they had created. Each of them had come up with a story, and then someone else had drawn it and made it real, and now they each had two comic books they'd helped to make. They spent the rest of the class just staring at the way their partners had turned their words into images, and excitedly looking at each other's comics and asking how their classmates had done it, and (in a few cases) scheming about what comics they were going to make next. I was so proud of all of them.

I’d like to take up the allocated 200-300 words to talk about all the comics I didn’t read this year. If you’re at all familiar with me and my work, this statement shouldn’t come as a shock—I take great pains to stay clear of all that’s on the tip of the tongue, preferring instead to fumble at the peripheries of the given palette.

Art begins and ends with miscommunication. I’ve always believed that, but nowadays it takes a lot of effort to remain willfully ignorant of what's hep and hot. It should be done though, perhaps not permanently, but in contained stretches of monastic seclusion. In order to make original, diverse and exciting comics one has to stop reading comics.

This idea of ignoring your colleagues was at the heart of my first elective class that I pitched and wrote and orchestrated in the Fall. Ostensibly a cartooning class, it had almost no comics in the syllabus, instead I dissected Lydia Davis and Vladimir Nabokov, dragged my babies to experimental poetry readings, showed them semi-obscure Russian zines and total abstractions, in short, did all the things you wouldn’t normally encounter in CCA’s illustration program. I urged my students to consume more art than they produce, and for that purpose I didn’t give them any homework between assignments, encouraging them to go out, read books without pictures in them, make regrettable decisions, do anything other than work. The results, I think, speak for themselves.

PS. Oh all right! I did read Jason's latest and Arab of the Future. Excellent, both.

Gigi D.G. is one of our greatest living cartoonists, and Cucumber Quest, her all-ages fantasy webcomic, is as innovative in concept as it is brilliant in execution. I could pontificate for hours on its clever lettering, its thoughtful character designs, its subversion of the Hero’s Journey, its expansion of “all ages” storytelling, and/or its cunning balance of humor and melancholy—often within the same page.  And I have. It’s not hard to, when every update ranks among the best comics published on any given week.

But it is D.G.’s use of color that most often leaves me starry-eyed. She wields color, thinks in color, speaks color as its own language. Moody teals impart tender reflection as deftly as they do loneliness. Stark black, white, and red, lit as though by spotlight, tense a scene of mind control and betrayal. Acidic neons reveal the superficiality of a scene’s levity. Lush sunset gradients bring an enemy’s concealed benevolence to the fore. It is color interpreted on a level of skill, nuance, and vision that few cartoonists ever reach. It is color given full and uncompromising respect. And it’s online, updated three times per week, for free. We, as the comics-reading public, aren’t just lucky to have Cucumber Quest—we are positively spoiled.

Becca Tobin (cartoonist):
In 2015 I’ve been very into artists that have really distinct symbolic and visual languages in their storytelling. This year I’ve seen cartoonists dealing with heavy real issues in abstracted and beautiful ways, and I love the expansive magic quality these comics offer. Heartfelt, powerful poetic comics!!

One of my favourite artists for this is Sophia Foster-Dimino and this has been a killer year for her, storming the Ignatz Awards in early September, building a house with those bricks! I love the meditation on relationship and connection in Sophia’s work, and her short comic for Future Shock Zero is and example of this: a self contained and dreamy exploration. The worlds of Sophia’s comics are idiosyncratic and sensual: textures and lines and tiny devices. Characters explore each other, squashed between panels, in nooks, touching and weeping. The realness of the connection and disconnection weaves so smoothly with alien worlds we’re invited to explore.

Iasmin Omar Ata is another artist who really stuck with me this year for their weaving of real and symbolic. Their webcomic Mis(h)adra finished in the spring, a story about living with epilepsy drawn deeply from the life of the creator. This has been one of my favourite comics to follow the past few years, beautiful illuminating and personal. Iasmin has a real mastery of colour, the tone of Mis(h)adra is guided by harsh sunset tones, purples and cyans. The protagonist Isaac battles with epilepsy depicted as binding daggers, the explosive colour pulls you through seizures and recoveries and gives a realness and physicality to the condition. The comic is available to read online and also to purchase as a PDF and is powerful in style and story.

Claire Napier (writer & critic):
I was in a group chat where David Fairbanks from Loser City and Mark Stack from Comics Bulletin were talking about panic at the disco today, so this is going round my mind: This ain't a scene, it's an arms race. And that's what struck me about comics, in the human sense, this year. Nobody knows who anybody is, there's no centralised authority or supportive pillars of respect, and there are no rules. None of us have to answer to anyone. And far too many of us use this as an excuse to behave in a rather small fashion. I believe that many, many of us use "well it's just comics, after all" as an excuse not to pay heed to... Whoever. Self-sabotage!

I mean this in macro, obviously. "Comics", as a cultural field of response, is over-modulated and has no mods. In terms of discovery, validation, finding the section of an international community of medium-enjoyers which actually feels like /your community/, it's every kid for themselves. This is an incredible drag and it leaves us all exhausted, feeling isolated, feeling irrelevant and humiliated. I'm not sure if I'm speaking as a critic or a reader, but I think it's probably both. I don't believe there's enough communication in the background of comics commentary. I think "we" need regular mixers. Let's do brunch, peers.
Every year I get to work with amazing artists that I really admire, some I've been a fan of for years and it's definitely my favourite thing about doing CBSP. The real treat though is discovering people who's work you've never seen before but are new favourites. This year I met Lottie Pencheon and Mathilde Vangelhewe. Lottie had been loosely on my radar as someone who interacted with CBSP a bunch on social media so when she introduced herself at ELCAF and told me was a comic artist I knew I had to see it! Mathilde I met in Lucerne at Fumetto, a Swiss comics festival we were both attending, I saw her work there an then and offered her a slot in our next project on the spot. They're both these super talented and excited comic artists who have so much going for them an they both did really beautiful work for Greasy's Guide to Nookie. While each comic was coloured in pencil the effect was totally different. I loved how bold as bright Mathilde's four pages were while Lottie's softer approach felt like a children's book which was just what it needed to contrast with the 'adult' content of the comics.

I can't wait to work them both again and I can't wait to see who's work I discover and fall in love with next year!

Jamila Rowser (writer and blogger Girl Gone Geek): Oyasumi Punpun by Inio Asano and Ore Monogatari!! written by Kazune Kawahara and illustrated by Aruko:
In the beginning of 2015 I wanted my sadness to consume me. For that, I turned to Inio Asano’s Oyasumi Punpun. When the sadness became too much, I turned to Ore Monogatari!! written by Kazune Kawahara and illustrated by Aruko.

Oyasumi Punpun follows the life of Punpun Punyama (later Onodera) from childhood through his early 20s, and all of the love and pain that happens in-between. All the while, he’s portrayed as a childishly drawn bird while the rest of the characters and world are illustrated realistically and beautifully.

Punpun comforted me when I needed it the most; however, that comfort wasn’t uplifting. It helped me justify my depression and made me feel like I wasn’t sitting alone in the dark. But though I found refuge in the dark, I knew I had to let in some light. That light was Ore Monogatari!!.

Ore Monogatari!! is a romantic comedy manga about a much larger than average teenager Takeo Gōda, his tiny and timid girlfriend Rinko Yamato and his quiet and handsome best friend Makoto Sunakawa.

If Punpun was a series of heartbreaks, Ore Monogatari!! was a series of first loves, with each chapter renewing my faith in love. But it wasn’t just Ore Monogatari’s cotton candy romance and heartwarming friendship that hooked me. It also showed me that I, just like Takeo, was deserving of that love and the happiness that it brings.

At times I feel like I’ve turned these manga into therapy, or that I may be reading too deep into their stories¬– but sometimes, things are that deep. Last year, I felt like I was lost at sea. Oyasumi Punpun and Ore Monogatari!! were my ebb and flow… Without them, I would have never made it to shore.

Writing about comics this year was much more of a slog than ever before: one of the main reasons of which was being impacted by an increasingly virulent Islamophobic and racist culture, and seeing that permeate comics in a more overt manner, post-Charlie Hebdo. I grew tired of being upset and hurt all the time; I grew tired of my exhaustion and hurt; of being perceived as negative and aggressive, and I grew tired of being tired. I reached the point where I didn't even want improvement, per se: just an absence of shittiness. If you're tired of hearing about it, rest assured I am doubly -triply- tired of feeling and espousing it. Functioning in comics in 2015 on a day-to-day basis as a brown, Muslim woman has been intensely draining and damaging in a way, that to be honest, I didn't think possible. Perhaps it's ignorance, but I never thought writing about comics on the internet would impact my mental and physical health to a degree where I had to actively work to combat those effects. As a result, my whole year in comics writing felt like a spluttering tap that coughed and spat but never flowed. I'm still here, and the only reason I can give as to why is it doesn't feel like the end yet. Maybe I've not been fully broken. 

I'm not saying change isn't happening. Maybe it is. But it doesn't happen fast enough for everyone. It happens unevenly. It happens falsely.